2019; 353 pages. Book 5 (out of 5) in the “Doughnut” series. New Author? : No. Humorous Fantasy; Satire. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
He’s King Mordak. Ruler of the goblins. One all-around bad dude. Successor to the Nameless One as the “Dark Lord” and the “Prince of Evil”. But he’s much more than that.
He’s a philosopher. He’s developed and promoted “New Evil”, a radical new way of looking at, well, the fundamental relationship between Good and Evil. Because is there really any reason for the cosmic yin/yang forces to be forever at war, continually depleting their ranks? What, or better yet, whose, purpose does it serve?
He’s a reformer, which is remarkable for a goblin. He’s revamped the universal healthcare program. One flat fee – threepence an hour plus you get to keep the cadaver. And no more amputations for ingrown toenails.
But now he’s got something new to ponder: the pros and cons of non-parthenogenetic reproduction. It’s the goblin way; they are spawned, not born. That means that, unlike any other species of beasties, there are no female goblins. Maybe it’s about time they make one. In the laboratory. Because how he can guarantee gender equality in the goblin kingdom, if you have no females?
Well, it doesn’t take a half-wit to see just how much can go wrong with that plan. It’s almost as bad as discovering an egg whisk.
What’s To Like...
An Orc on the Wild Side is the fifth installment in Tom Holt’s current “Doughnut” series, a fun and “spoofy” mash-up of quantum physics multiverses and fantasy classics. The series’ title comes from the fact that you can bake yourself a doughnut, look through it into a parallel universe, and poof!, you get magically transported there.
The storyline's structure is formulaic, and that's not a criticism. Tom Holt throws in a whole bunch of plot threads (I counted at least nine of them here), most of which seemingly have nothing to do with any of the others, and we spend the rest of the book wondering how he’s going to tie them all together at the end. He does it successfully every time, including here, and half the fun is watching how he does it.
The other half of the fun is the Tom Holtian wit and spoofery. We learn why egg whisk technology is so dangerous, struggle alongside Mordak to decipher a doom-and-gloom prophecy concerning the return of the Nameless One, and chortle at the pokes in gentle fun at Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, and even Brexit. The enigmatic uncle/nephew duo of Herald and Art are back, the latter still in the process of redefining the term “omnivore”. We begin to learn more about whom they ultimately work for at long last.
There are no chapters in the book; instead it’s divided into five “parts”, each with a clever “orcish” title, such as “All Orc and No Prey”. There are critters aplenty – goblins, dwarves, flying lizards (we’d call them dragons), wraiths, humans, an Evil Eye, Mr. Bullfrog (my favorite new character), and one not-to-be-messed-with she-goblin. Curiously, there are no halflings, nor any orcs, although you could argue that the terms goblins and orcs are synonymous.
The ending is typical Tom Holt, with the emphasis being on its clever resolution of the plot threads and Mordak’s question: why shouldn’t the Elves, Dwarves and Goblin engage in at least some degree of dialogue and cooperation? Good triumphs, or at least “New Evil” does, despite some of the baddies living to incite another day.
An Orc on the Wild Side is both a standalone story and part of a series. It is set entirely in the fantasy-imbued parallel world called the “Hidden Realms”. It was written in English, not American, so you might be sceptical about tyres and cissy about artefacts and grotty centrefolds. There aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of, although you’re not always sure about who they actually are.
“I don’t think I quite caught your first name.”
She flushed slightly. “It’s Snow.”
“That’s an unusual-“
She looked at him. “It’s short,” she said, for ‘S-no-business-of-yours-what-my-first-name-is. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have sausages to fry.” (pg. 32)
“So where does it say in the Act about killing three thousand goblins?”
The Minister stabbed at a paragraph with his claw. “There, look. Paragraph six.”
“What? But that’s just-“
“The living wage,” the Minister said. “Well, this lot doesn’t comply.”
The Minister shook his head. “The living wage is three Iron Pence a day, right? Well, the lot doesn’t earn that much.”
“So they can’t go on living, can they?” (pg. 253)
“Truly is it said, go not to the Elves for answers, since they’re about as much use as a custard wall.” (pg. 297)
There’s not a lot of cussing – probably a bit less than a dozen instances. I think I caught a plot hole (on page 72) unless the pair of human couples were engaged in a bit of wife-swapping, and that’s highly unlikely. Plus one typo (thing/things) a few pages later.
There are a couple negative reviews at Amazon and Goodreads, mostly from people upset that Tom Holt would dare to poke fun at something as sacrosanct as LOTR. Personally I think that most authors would love to be famous and successful enough to where their works and worlds are being parodied.
8 Stars. I’ve enjoyed all the books so far in this series, and An Orc on the Wild Side can be added to that list. There’s no mention of a sequel over at Wikipedia, and my biggest worry is that Tom Holt will someday soon call it a career and hang up his pen.